The average charter school student in Michigan is showing more growth than demographically similar students in traditional public schools in the state, though achievement remains low overall, according to a report released Monday.
The study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University examined the amount of improvement students in charter schools are showing on state exams over a six-year period and compared that growth with students in traditional public schools.
The report says charter school students on average gain an additional two months of learning in reading and math. The gains are particularly pronounced for students who attend a charter school in Detroit. Those students gained on average three months of achievement for each year they attend a charter school, the report says.
Most other independent research about charter school performance in Michigan has been more mixed. Though there are some charters that are excelling, many are struggling.
The CREDO study looked at growth for elementary and middle school students in charter schools. High school students were not examined because those students are tested only once on state exams.
Monday’s report — which was focused on growth — also shows a majority of charters in the state are low-achieving. In reading, for instance, 80% of the 208 schools that had enough test score data are identified as low achieving in the report.
Researchers said of particular concern are 29 schools that are seeing low growth and low achievement.
In math, 84% of the 212 charters with available data were identified as low-achieving; about 25% of the schools are also showing scores that aren’t improving quickly, if at all.
Devora Davis, CREDO research manager, said it’s important to note that many charters are low-achieving because they’ve started out with students who are low-achieving.
“We’ll see those students moving over time into the higher levels of achievement,” Davis said.
Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, applauded the results for schools that are performing at high levels but urged caution.
“This study’s focus on school performance averages hides great disparities in Michigan charter performance. Some charter schools are doing well; others are abysmal,” said Arellano.
Ed Roeber, former head of the assessment and accountability office at the Michigan Department of Education, said a two-month or three-month gain could be significant.
“The issue is, do you see it in every case. The average is interesting, but then the bigger issue is the extent to which all schools show that,” said Roeber, now senior assessment policy advisor with World Class Instructional Design and Assessment.
Charter school advocates were buoyed by today’s report.
“We believe it is really demonstrating that the Michigan model for charter schools is working,” said Cindy Schumacher, executive director of the Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.
And Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter advocacy group, said in a statement that the results are “phenomenal” and show that charters “are fulfilling the promise of providing a quality education.”
CREDO in 2009 published some of the most comprehensive research to date on charter schools and their academic performance. Michigan was not included in that earlier report.
Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University researcher, said CREDO has a reputation for doing credible work. But he’s worried some may overstate the findings. Miron’s own research has found similar results to Monday’s CREDO report.
“Over time, they were gaining more than traditional public schools. But what we also found is they were far behind,” Miron said.
Miron said it’s easy to show gains when test scores are low. Typically, though, those gains begin to plateau.
The CREDO report analyzed the academic performance of 85,650 charter school students in Michigan from 273 charter schools.
Michigan has about 280 charter schools and in 2012 the charter school law was updated to remove most caps for new schools to open, pushed by lawmakers who said charter schools are the key to providing more choice for parents unsatisfied with their traditional public school options.